Pepper & Me - Our story on our first birthday
So most of you will already know a bit about me - My name is Cherie, I’m 28, i live in Tauranga with my husband Shannon and daughter Miss Pepper (16 months). I was born in Taupo, and grew up in Rotorua. My first job in hospitality was waitressing at a restaurant called ‘Herbs place’ where I eventually managed to weasel my way into the kitchen and started by learning the larder section (making desserts, salads, vegetables and side dishes) I really did stumble into it, but felt completely at home in a kitchen (probably because I got to eat delicious food all evening) and headed off to tech to complete my training. I managed to convince the new restaurant that was opening next door that i was capable of being a full time chef, and they took me on.
Looking back it was always meant to be, I have always been a little obsessed with food. Whenever my parents would take me somewhere, all i would be interested in was what might be going down for lunch. Special occasions, any celebrations - all revolved around food.
I vividly remember my first day of work. It was what my family and friends might call A ‘Classic Cherie moment’ because as I was hopping into my civic in my brand new chefs gear, with my brand new knife kit, my cooks knife was so sharp it fell through the sheath and straight into the back of my leg.
Off to the emergency room we went, and I ended up with 8 stitches. I was supposed to be keeping off my leg for three weeks, but we duck taped it up tighty and off to work i went. I may have been an hour late and have had to make a rather embarrassing first day phone call - but I made it happen.
That’s pretty much me to a tee. I’m extremely determined, and I make things happen even when the task may seem impossible. I absolutely thrive when i’m under pressure, and this would have to be my sweetest skill. I have always fit perfectly into the crazy busy kitchen environment, the adrenaline rush you get during a busy service has always fueled my fire. To be honest I never saw myself out of this environment, certainly never envisioned myself with a husband or kids.
I left Rotorua when i was 20, and moved to Brisbane to work for a few months when the opportunity arose for me to head up to Hamilton Island in the Great barrier reef, to live and work in paradise. I jumped at the chance and spent the next few years in my absolute element. We worked hard and played even harder. Those are stories for another day.
During race week when the port was filled with super yachts, I somehow managed to convince one of the yachts that i was ‘seaworthy’ and joined the crew as there liveaboard chef. Another few amazing years spent travelling the world, from Aus and NZ all the way up to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Denmark, England, Portugal, Spain and throughout the mediterranean. On my weekends off I would fly to visit friends in Ireland or Switzerland.
The best part of my travels was meeting the locals, finding out about their cuisine and convincing them to share their grandmother's traditional recipes for me to re create for the yacht guests. The stories from nights off are also stories for another time.
Admittedly the novelty of waking up in a different place every morning eventually wears off and I just longed to be able to live in a house, and maybe even own a car or find a boyfriend. I never planned to settle in Auckland, but my good friend secretly lined me up on dates with Shannon, as she didn’t want me to leave again! She got lucky as we hit it off and that put a timely end to my crazy lifestyle. In my ‘Pre Shannon’ Days, I was known as Shazza. Shazza is now allocated a once yearly outing to cause whatever mischief she sees fit. Shazzas stories would make a bloody fantastic book one day.
Shannon and I got married in 2014, and as the late nights of crazy cooking and intense drinking were no longer appealing, I found a Monday to Friday 7-3 job in catering. Here I learned some management and costing skills running the kitchen. Work still dominated my life and I would often find the stress of it all quite crushing. I think it doesn’t matter who you work for, if you're doing it for someone else, the efforts are usually never going to be as validated as they are when you do it for yourself.
When I fell pregnant in July 2015, we knew we needed to leave Auckland and find a lower stress family lifestyle, so Tauranga was our natural choice. My family are close and the rent was affordable. Shannon was lucky enough to find an amazing job straight away, while I settled into preparing for the new baby who was due to arrive in a few weeks time.
Pepper was born the on 4th April, and our lives were forever blessed with an almost ten pound happy little lump that didn’t enjoy sleeping too much. Life as a new mum began.
I can honestly say i don't think anyone (myself included) expected me to be a natural at it. But you know what - I was, and I still am. Nothing had ever made me so happy, so relaxed, so content. I knew it was the fact that I didn’t have to go back to a stressful job that was helping me feel this way, and so when the maternity pay ran out and ‘Cherie + working’ were beginning to sneak there way into my husbands vocabulary, I knew a cunning plan was needed.
And thus, Pepper & Me was born. We started with a logo and a name. “But what are you actually going to sell?” my brother wanted to know. I wasn’t sure! I was so passionate about my new mum status that breastfeeding and breastfeeding support was the first avenue I looked down. I knew so many who had trouble with it, and I wanted to help so badly. I had a wide knowledge of how spices can help, what tastes nice and how to make good food easily. That was how our first range was born - the Whatevz salt blend and the three pastes. My brother Lorne made me a website and we began the trial and error process of shipping glass jars across the country. Fun times.
My first order was sent to the wonderful people who run Nora’s closet. This is something i will never forget and now have a cupboard full of Nora’s closet woolen coats for Miss P. It wasn’t long before many many small business women reached out to me, and I made a new and beautiful community of friends. It was suggested to me that I should send my product out to a couple of bloggers who were breastfeeding, in hope that they would love and share it - I wasn’t sure where to start but it was world breastfeeding week, and I spotted three well written, non judgy, supportive posts about the week I choose those three women to send a pack to each. I think you all know that one of them was Jordan of With the Whittakers, and it was a stroke of luck that she fell in love with my products and has continued to share them with the world pretty much every day over the past year. The other fabulous lady was Hayley from Bebe & I, who is also still a great customer of mine and loves our products. The third person never tried anything or shared anything - which is absolutely fine - you win some you lose some and our journey into the social media world had been kick started. I learnt more about the food side of social media world, and became friends with many more amazing women - Katie in the Kitchen, Bets from Magnolia Kitchen, and Renee from Heart from Hazel. These girls constantly share how much they enjoy Pepper & Me, we collaborate on ideas and and from them my snapchat has now grown to be my favorite and biggest social media platform, where i can cook and share my journey with everyone, in a form that doesn’t require staged or posed photos or beautiful equipment. It’s just me, some kmart pans, cheap cuts of meat and Pepper & Me products, cooked with a whining toddler at my feet. Real life.
Back at the start I think we replaced more orders than not. More and more money was poured into my crazy project. The challenges were endless and most days would bring only one or two orders. It took a good three or four months to get things running on smoother systems. Moving to a bigger house, changing to a courier company that imported all the information from my website and buying equipment to triple my production have all been significant stepping stones along the way.
Everything happened slowly, bit by bit, as we got busier and more regular customers. In December I accepted a job as a cook at Peppers daycare, as a means to an end while I continued to build my business. I worked 5 days a week, then came home and continued to work until all the orders were done, the social media posts were done, the bills were paid and the pastes were made. The family meal was cooked and the house was always reasonable tidy. Hard work? Luckily that’s what i’m good at. I kept at it and at the end of May was able to leave that job and run Pepper & Me full time.
If we are being honest none of the above was planned. It fell into a natural progression, and this has worked to our advantage. If i didn’t have the constant tech support from my brother, we would never have been able to launch. The Help from all my family, Mum, Dad, Aunty and cousins (many hours spent labelling and packaging and sealing and jarring) all helped us get to where we are now. Obviously a very patient and helpful husband was needed too. Accepting help is essential when you like to try and challenge the limits of what amount is physically possible to produce.
I think this journey over the past year has 100% shaped my passion for supporting small businesses. You have no idea how hard it is until you have had a crack at it yourself, I actually can’t even put it into words. We work three times the hours for half the pay, there is no leaving work behind at work. No sick days, no time of the day when you are not expected to reply instantly to questions. Is it worth it though? For me that’s always going to be a 100% yes, and if I can help it, I will never work for anyone else again.
My little secret would be that most days I feel like i’m in over my head. I have no prior business knowledge, I have no accounting knowledge, I have no clue what an SEO is or the dynamics of my website. I am simply a chef who didn’t want to go back to work.
Work Life balance - Everyone’s biggest question. We have fallen into a routine where pepper goes to preschool 8.30-2.30 four days a week, and this is when I try and get the bulk of the emails done, and the production of product. I pick up Pepper and we hang out from 2.30 - 5.30. We go to the park, do swimming lessons, tumble time and have cafe dates. I teach her about counting, letters, animals and we sing and dance. Dad (Shan) comes home at 5.30, then I can cook dinner, and trial new recipes. I snapchat this process as part of our advertising, it helps to show people how to use our products. After dinner I sit down at my desk and package orders, sometimes it takes half the night, sometimes i'm done by 8 or 9.
I usually don’t work on Fridays and Saturdays, and spend that time cleaning the house and then hanging out as a family as there are no courier pick-ups. Sunday’s I prepare for the following week, and get the weekends orders ready for Mondays pick ups.
If i’m well organized there’s time for everything. If i’m not, all I can say is thank the lord for dry shampoo and filters.
Reading back on that i'm not sure it’s exactly balanced, but no one ever said this was going to be easy and we are all happy - I certainly don’t feel like Pepper misses out on anything, although some weeks can be crazier than others!
This week has just been insane. Not only all the orders but all the businesses that have come together to help me pull this off, I can’t thank you all enough. Thank you for making dreams come true by supporting small, and thank you for taking part in my crazy plans.
Till next time we have time to write a blog -
Xx P & M